IHRSA 2023: 'The Year of Redemption'

Normally sunny San Diego was soggy for much of IHRSA 2023 as the West Coast experienced rainy weather, but that didn’t put a damper on the attendance or enthusiasm from many of the attendees at this year’s IHRSA 2023 conference and trade show March 20-23 at the San Diego Convention Center.

This was the first year back to San Diego since the IHRSA 2020 event that was planned for San Diego was canceled in March 2020 due to COVID restrictions shutting down non-essential travel in the United States. IHRSA 2021 was held in September 2021 in Dallas, and IHRSA 2022 was held in June 2022 in Miami.

IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, was anticipating more than 6,000 attendees, and although Club Industry has not received a confirmed attendance number yet, some of the IHRSA officials Club Industry spoke with indicated that registration surpassed 8,000 people.

“Together, we’re well on our way to the next chapter of IHRSA,” IHRSA President and CEO Liz Clark said as she welcomed attendees to the event. “We talked a lot over the past couple of years about recovery, but I believe that 2023 is the year of redemption. Being back and together proves our resilience, and most importantly, fortifies what we all know: that we are essential.”

She added that the industry and IHRSA have been through a lot during the past three years, but rather than focusing on where the industry and IHRSA fell short, it’s best to learn from the challenges.

“Because of them, [we] are laser focused on where we are going,” she said. “We are bound together by our health and fitness passion, and as a result, are helping people live longer in every corner of the world.”

Board Elections and IHRSA Financials

For the first time in three years, IHRSA had positive revenue in 2022, according to Chris Craytor, chair of IHRSA’s board and CEO of acac Fitness and Wellness Centers. The association had $4.89 million in profit in 2022.

During a member meeting held at the event prior to the second-day keynote, Craytor was re-elected as board president. New board members elected and starting their term on July 1 were Stacey Anderson, president of Self Esteem Brands; Maria Gonzalez, CEO of Club Fitness; Jeff Sanders, chief growth officer at Energy Fitness, and Barry Walsh, founder of Iconic Health Clubs.


IHRSA handed out several awards at the event. Carol Nalevanko, president of DMB Sports Clubs, received the 2023 Julie Main Woman Leader Award for exemplifying qualities of leadership and drive during her 40 years of experience in the industry.

Greg Oliver, CEO and managing director of Fitness and Lifestyle Group in Australia, received the John Holsinger Global Leader Award for his 40 years of work in the industry. The award was named for John Holsinger, IHRSA’s Asia-Pacific director who died in February 2022.

Gale Landers, founder and CEO of Fitness Formula Clubs in Chicago, received the IHRSA Advocate of the Year Award for his work promoting the fitness industry on a state and federal level. Landers also is the chair of the National Health and Fitness Alliance.


This year’s event offered three keynote addresses. Robyn Benincasa kicked off the event with the first-day keynote. Benincasa is a two-time World Champion Adventure racer, a firefighter in San Diego and a New York Times best-selling author of her book “How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth.” Her keynote emphasized the importance of teamwork.

“Every single day, we and the people around us have a decision to make, and that is who we’re competing with,” Benincasa said. “Realize that we’re going to get so much further when we actually help each other to succeed.”

Robert J. O’Neill, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who was a team leader on the SEAL Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden and wrote the New York Times best-selling memoir “The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior,” offered the keynote on the second day. He shared some of the details about the bin Laden raid as he touched on the topic of his keynote, “The Way Forward: Master Life's Toughest Battles and Create Your Lasting Legacy.”  

“It’s OK to be afraid; just don’t panic,” he told the audience. “Panic is contagious. As a leader, calm is also contagious.”

Change Enthusiasm Global Founder and CEO Cassandra Worthy offered the keynote, “Master the Chemistry of Change,” on the third day, focusing on adaptability, resilience and perseverance.

“The really big changes don’t happen to you; they happen for you,” Worthy said in her presentation. “Resistance to change is real. It needs to be acknowledged, but it’s relative. Most resistance is rooted in fear or anxiety of getting out of their comfort zone. It’s about getting curious to understand what’s based in perception versus reality.”


At least two sessions this year focused on women’s leadership. The 14th Annual IHRSA Women's Leadership Summit showcased the achievement of women in the industry and offered a networking opportunity after the group listened to a diverse group of female leaders share their experiences operating in a traditionally male industry. The panelists were Gigliola Aycardi Batista, executive vice president and co-founder of BODYTECH in Brazil; Heather Ruff, co-founder of SPENGA Fitness; Shadan Alsagri, deputy COO of Leejam Sports/Fitness Time; and Andrea Bell, co-founder and director of Inspire Brands Asia and chair of Global Health & Fitness Alliance. The panel was moderated by Michele Melkerson-Granryd, owner of Michele Fit and Well Personal Training and Fitness Management Solutions as well as secretary on the IHRSA Board of Directors.

The other panel, “Celebrating Women Leaders and Impacting the Bottom Line,” featured insights from panelists Paula Neubert, president and general manager of Club Greenwood; Allison Flatley, CEO of Allison Flatley Consulting; Cher Harris, general manager of The Houstonian Club; and Ada McKenzie, owner of Cedardale Health & Fitness.

Two other sessions put the spotlight on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Michaela Brown, general manager at VIDA Fitness and chairperson of the VIDA Diversity and Inclusion Board, presented a DEI workshop to help operators with awareness, sensitivity, knowledge and tools that they need to improve DEI and diffuse potentially negative DEI outcomes.

Brown moderated another panel, “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fireside Chat,” with Chuck Runyon, co-founder of Self Esteem Brands; Carlos Davila, diversity and inclusion officer at Fhitting Room; and Ron Lamb, CEO at Club Automation.

The last session of the regular IHRSA 2023 event was a panel with CEOs of some of the largest brands in the industry: Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau, Xponential CEO Anthony Geisler, The Bay Club Co. CEO Matthew Stevens and Solid Core CEO Bryan Myers. Club Industry will share some of the insights from this panel in a separate story to be published in the coming week.

Special Events

IHRSA 2023 included several special events. The industry remembered Augie Nieto, co-founder of Life Fitness, at a celebration of Nieto. Nieto died in February from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after working with his wife, Lynne, and the fitness industry to raise money to find a cure for ALS. The event raised more than $300,000 for ALS research.

Lynne Nieto said the following at the event: "ALS was Augie’s biggest tragedy. But how he dealt with it was his greatest triumph. His strength, leadership, perseverance and indomitable spirit set examples for all of us to live the rest of our lives and emulate that. He showed us how to best deal with an extraordinarily bad situation and to deal with it with grace and courage and love, and most of all with a sense of humor.”

Life Fitness also hosted a happy hour at its booth to honor Nieto and committed $500,000 to Augie’s Quest over the next five years.

Myzone hosted its annual breakfast at which it announced that it will lead a challenge in May to raise awareness and money for research to combat ALS in honor of Nieto.

It also shared some club usage statistics. Pre-COVID, 63 percent of all workout sessions recorded on a Myzone device were performed in a fitness facility. That dropped to 3 percent in April 2020 at the height of COVID and gym shutdowns. In February 2023, 53 percent of workouts using a Myzone device were done in a fitness facility.

Myzone also shared product announcements, which will be recounted by Club Industry in a later story.

For the first time ever, IHRSA partnered with BFS for the Boutique Fitness Summit on March 23. The Summit was attended by more than 100 studio owners and executives who traveled from 19 states and nine countries, according to Julian Barnes, one of the BFS co-founders. Barnes, along with BFS co-founder Nt Etuk kicked off the summit with a State of the Industry presentation.

The event included the BFS CEO Summit, which featured sessions on leadership, scaling organizations, growth strategies and a case study on Soul Cycle. It also included the General Session which featured IHRSA CEO Liz Clark’s presentation on advocacy, Walla Co-Founder Laura Munkholm’s discussion on Creating Connections That Motivate Clients to Succeed and Dr. Paul Bedford’s presentation on retention.